December 3, 2013 11:12 am
For the past 27 years, PNC Financial has been keeping track of the changing price of the”Twelve Days of Christmas,” watching how gold rings and dancers and swans have changed in price with time. Imagine it’s 1986, and a young Christmas-obsessed entrepreneur is thinking through all of the ways he could turn some coin. After all, someone must be raising all those hens, or crafting the golden rings, or piping the pipes—surely one of those industries comes with healthy margins.
Of the twelve days of Christmas, the gifts are:
- a partridge in a pear tree
- two turtle doves
- three french hens
- four calling birds
- five golden rings
- six geese-a-laying
- seven swans-a-swimming
- eight maids-a-milking
- nine ladies dancing
- 10 lords-a-leaping
- 11 pipers piping
- 12 drummers drumming.
So which job should an ambitious young person choose?
Using PNC’s historical data, we’ve charted out the changing price of these iconic Christmas gifts. (Click the graphs to zoom in.)
Looks pretty good, right? Almost all of the Christmas industries have shown some solid growth over the past few decades. Dancing ladies seem to be doing particularly well; drummers and pipers are locked in step.
But here’s the thing about this Christmas story—it lasts for 12 days. And as the carol goes, the presents are trotted out more than once. Sure, there’s a partridge in a pear tree on the first day, but there’s also another partridge in a pear tree on day two, and day three, and twelve. So, maybe the earning potential for a single french hen isn’t so great, but you’ll be selling 10 days worth of them.
Here’s how the Christmas industries change when you take repeat performances into consideration.
We can see three industries standing above the crowd: swimming swans, dancing ladies, and leaping lords command a high price.
But there’s another factor to consider here. All that money for dancers? It’s going to get split nine ways. So, sure, your dancing troupe may be doing well, but your career as a dancer would be much less lucrative.
So what can we learn about choosing a Christmas-based career when individualized earning potentials are taken into consideration? Maybe it’s time to get some swans.
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November 26, 2013 12:56 pm
If you’ve ever seen a kids sports movie, you know that there’s nothing more uplifting than seeing the underdog kids win the big title—proving that heart and talent can trump facilities and rich parents any day. But that plot line is becoming more and more fictional each day. Organized sports are expensive, and informal practice grounds are disappearing.
Bruce Kelly and Carl Carchia at ESPN Magazine took a look at some data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, and found that while lots of kids are playing sports, it’s pretty easy to tell which kids:
But we also see starkly what drives the very earliest action: money. The biggest indicator of whether kids start young, Sabo found, is whether their parents have a household income of $100,000 or more.
When you look at demographic data from cities, you see the same thing. “Living in poor corners of cities culls even more kids from sports. Nationwide, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, only a quarter of eighth- to 12th-graders enrolled in the poorest schools played school sports,” they write.
John Greenya at Pacific Standard spoke with Darryl Hill, the first African American to play football in the Atlantic Coast Conference when he joined the University of Maryland team in 1963. “Free play has disappeared,” he said. “There are no more sandlot sports.” Hill is trying to fix that. He founded Kids Play USA Foundation, an organization that tries to remove the financial barriers that might keep kids from playing sports. Their website explains the challenges they face:
Today playing organized youth sports has a price tag. Expenses such as team enrollment fees, equipment and uniform costs, travel and other expenses are often substantial and are beyond the already stretched budget of many families. Consequently, their children are not able to play on organized youth teams resulting in a significant portion of America’s children not being engaged in sports and recreation. They are often idle and alone and their number is growing. Kids Play USA is committed to changing this.
The price tag of sports isn’t news to parents. Between joining fees, equipment, uniforms and travel many sports cost parents thousands of dollars a year. Not quite the backyard football, or alleyway basketball that the movies depict.
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November 22, 2013 10:22 am
Marketers might know more about the human mind than psychologists do, and with Black Friday just a week away, they are getting ready to release their arsenal of tricks. Stores gearing up for buy-one-get-one-free deals, giant red stickers and cheesy Christmas music are a prime place to watch this mental manipulation in action. Here’s how one of those tricks works.
According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, much of the duping is based on the “original price” that stores post on their sale items. Consumers rely on comparing the difference between the original price and the sales price to figure out how good a sale is. “If a retailer can get a consumer to pay more attention to a $179 original list price, and less attention to a $99 sale price, when assessing the worth of a winter jacket, then the $99 sale price will seem like a better deal,” the researchers write.
Of course, stores know this. In fact, many stores have been accused of raising their prices in the weeks before a sale, so that their original price figure is higher and they can make more money. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission actually has a whole guide to combat deceptive pricing. It includes the following guideline:
One of the most commonly used forms of bargain advertising is to offer a reduction from the advertiser’s own former price for an article. If the former price is the actual, bona fide price at which the article was offered to the public on a regular basis for a reasonably substantial period of time, it provides a legitimate basis for the advertising of a price comparison. Where the former price is genuine, the bargain being advertised is a true one. If, on the other hand, the former price being advertised is not bona fide but fictitious — for example, where an artificial, inflated price was established for the purpose of enabling the subsequent offer of a large reduction — the “bargain” being advertised is a false one; the purchaser is not receiving the unusual value he expects. In such a case, the “reduced” price is, in reality, probably just the seller’s regular price.
So when you’re shopping for the holidays, or on Black Friday, don’t be fooled by the “original price” trick. Not only could those original prices be fake, but they’re using them to dupe you into buying things you wouldn’t otherwise consider.
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November 21, 2013 3:23 pm
There’s a persistent idea, which comes up often in debates over social services, that a too-generous social assistance program could make life so cushy that people would be happy to be unemployed. (This is despite the well-known psychological, health, and economic hazards of un- or under-employement, although not all of these issues stem specifically from financial shortfalls). Now, a new study by Jan Eichhorn took that idea head on, looking at rates of life satisfaction from unemployed people across the European Union. And Eichhorn found that there is no connection between how happy people are and the quality of their country’s unemployment assistance.
There is notable variation, from country to country, on how much being unemployed hurts people’s life satisfaction. And large-scale economic disparities between the countries—in GDP or the amount of income inequality—make a difference. But one factor that didn’t matter was how robust unemployment assistance programs are.
Not only does the strength of an unemployment program not affect people’s happiness, it also doesn’t affect how hard people look for new jobs when they are unemployed.
It is imperative to understand that this does not disqualify welfare state payments, as there are forms of well-being not comprehensively captured in the subjective evaluations (such as material well-being or health), although there are connections between the different domains of well-being. It does mean however that claims about unemployment beneﬁts helping to reduce the negative impact of unemployment in terms of the feeling and the subjective evaluations could not be upheld uncritically. In turn this means that claims about unemployment beneﬁts resulting in complacent unemployed people who chose the situation and would be satisﬁed with it cannot be retained uncritically either.
Arguments to increase or decrease unemployment beneﬁts therefore should not be based on discussions which use these claims as their foundation as they could not be supported empirically by this study. Other reasons need to be presented in order to justify decisions regarding unemployment beneﬁt levels, not arguments based on discussions of systematic effects on motivation, satisfaction and complacency.
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November 20, 2013 10:16 am
The concept of paying it forward, or reciprocating a kind act from one person by doing something kind for another, has been in the limelight lately, with Starbucks’ pay it forward campaign and other acts of kindness attracting media attention, but the idea that good deeds generate more good deeds dates back to the days of the ancient Greeks. New research, however, bursts the benevolence bubble. Although people do sometimes pay it forward, researcher Michael Norton writes in Scientific American, on the whole, we are much more likely to pass on negative actions than positive ones.
Norton and his colleagues performed an experiment in which they gave one person (an actor) six dollars and told the person to keep all the money, split it or pass all of it on to another person (the study subject, who didn’t know the other person was an actor). Then, the subject was asked to make the same choice—keep the cash, split it or give it all away to another stranger. Here’s what the researchers found:
First, some good news: people who had been treated fairly were very likely to pay forward fairness: if someone splits $6 evenly with me, I’ll split $6 evenly with the next person. Now, some worse news: people who had received generosity – who’d gotten the full $6 from the previous person –were willing to pay forward only $3. In other words, receiving generosity ($6) did not make people pay forward any more cash than receiving fairness ($3). In both cases, people were only willing to pay forward half. Now the bad news: people who had received greed? They were very likely to pay that greed forward, giving the next person just a little over $1, on average.
In other words, the subjects who were shortchanged were taking their frustrations about their bad experience out on a perfect stranger. They were more likely to pay greed forward than generosity, Norton explains, which can be summed up as, “If I can’t pay you back for being a jerk, my only option for feeling better is to be a jerk to someone else.”
At the same time, people have little incentive to be nice to one another unless they are part of a specific group that creates some sense of shared identity, Norton says. Based on these findings, you’ll probably want to have cash on hand next time you visit Starbucks. That stranger ahead of you in line most likely won’t be picking up your tab.
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